Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Spring Run

Despite the smallest day count, February is the longest month of the year for me.  Each season here offers a variety of outdoor activities but I have by now grown weary of white numb hands and the threat of being stranded by snowfall.  The sideways slide of the car while rounding a sharp curve is a thrill but enough already.  The past two days have been warm and clear.  Outside is the place to be.

The first picture requires explanation.  Standing on the flat meadow, the incline of the bedrock ridge can be seen in the background.  The edge of the snow cover in the center of the picture marks the path of water flowing toward lower ground.  One more forward step will place me in water deep enough to cover my boots.  Even older boys are drawn to water and I am no exception.  There is a valid reason for me to be walking around here.

Here is a closer view of the narrow spot in the stream.  Despite the existence of water everywhere, my socks remain dry.  Some combination of water running under the snow pack cut this channel and formed the ice.

There are no traces of water running down the hill in this area.  Occasional springs bring this water to the surface.  Close inspection will reveal current marks as the water moves toward the surface on either side of the broken stones that may have been placed by the farmer's children to make a pool.  As soon as it gets warmer, there is a better than average chance that this older boy will work to expand this pool.  The ice to the right and the visible wire cage mark the location of his Cardinal Flower plants.

Shaded by the trees on the ridge, these light green leaves are just now seeing daylight.  Snow cover has been continuous here and the newly formed ice does not appear to have harmed the actively growing plants.  Snow is forecast for tomorrow night so these plants may be covered by a new insulating blanket before the deep freeze returns.  We remain hopeful that these plants will survive the wild temperature swings of the next two months.  The presence of ground water improves the chances that seeds dropped here last summer will grow.  We want this rare native plant to find a wild home here.  We are excited with the results so far.  This is definitely the sturdiest, happiest looking February Cardinal flower we have ever seen!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Thyme For Breakfast

Once again the garden is covered with snow.   So far there aren't even many deer tracks with  one exception.   Here you see red creeping thyme peeking out of the snow on the stone patio at the west end of the house.   The white stripe up the left side of the photo is the house so you can see it is right next to the house.  In  the upper right  corner of the picture you can see dirt.  What's up with that?

Clearly the deer had a meeting and decided to have thyme for breakfast.  The only deer  tracks  I can see lead directly  from the Norway spruce to my thyme covered patio.

The thyme changes color in the cold, but it remains fragrant and tasty all winter.  Since it has been warm and wet, the saturated dirt made it possible for the deer to rip up the plants and munch on them roots and all.

Only this tiny piece was left behind on top of the snow.  From clues left behind I think I recognize the morning munchers.  I caught  them the act a couple of winters ago.  I hope they have lunch and dinner plans elsewhere!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Warm February Day

This has been an unusual period of unseasonably warm weather.  Last night's overnight low temperature remained above 50 F.  We may see more than 70 F during the day today.  The White Pine tree sheltering these Arbutus plants kept the ice from forming here.  Snow cover was also thin so these plants are fully exposed to indirect sunlight despite their placement on a north facing slope.  The flower buds formed last fall will soon open releasing the wonderfully scented white flowers.  Yes, we are excited by the promise of what will soon be here.

A less pleasant reality presents itself just down the hill.  A ditch has been established to carry away running water but it fills with plowed snow and ice.  That sends melt water into the lane and substantial ruts result.  The five foot long pry bar with a blade tip was used to attack the ice.  An open section of the ditch and sore shoulders resulted.  Water worked its way under the remaining ice and the driveway surface is not in horrible shape.

Believe it or not this is a picture of great success.  A water bar was formed across the driveway to direct the water that runs down the hill in the direction of the Cardinal Flower.  That first patch of brown snow resulted from the water that was directed and held there.  Cardinal Flower transplants are close by that water.  This spring the water bar will be repaired and expanded.  A depression will be dug to increase the water holding capacity of the area.  Cardinal Flower prefers moist soil and we will try and make that happen somewhat naturally.

Standing water is seldom seen here because of the deep gravel deposit that lies just beneath the soil surface.  When frost fills the soil, water retention is the result.  We do not recall ever seeing this much water here before.  The town road is the high ground here and the water that ran down our hill is trapped.

Reflections on the water's surface create an unusual and attractive scene.  We were fortunate to get these pictures yesterday as the frost has left the ground and all of the water seeped away.  We did walk here this morning to check on the status of our plants.  The water was gone!

Close by we found this New England Aster already underway with this year's growth.  Its purple flowers with yellow centers are months away but we can certainly see another new beginning here today.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Preview Of Coming Attractions

I knew on my first trip outside outside this morning that something was different.  The birds were singing and there was  warmth  in the air.  The snow pack had shrunk enough for me to get out and take a few pictures.  Most of the garden is still out of my camera's reach.  The coneflower  seed heads that stood tall for so long have been bent down by the snow.  There aren't many seeds left.  Most of the seed heads have been picked clean.

Two coneflower seeds are shown here on crystals of ice that used to be fluffy snow.  They bear a resemblance to a sunflower seed, but are much smaller and flatter. The now increasing presence of the sun is making itself known.  Brown patches of grass and puddles are getting bigger and bigger while the formerly fluffy white snow shrivels down to ice.

The rusty color of my curly spearmint caught my attention. I never noticed its winter coloration before.  I grow it to use in cooking and for tea.  It spreads like all mints do and I know for sure that when spring actually arrives, the patch will be bigger than it was last year.  Some plants you can always count on to thrive.

So here is a preview of coming attractions in the garden.  Once the ice is gone there will be weeds to pull, plants to trim back and best of all promising new spring plant growth.  This catnip can hardly wait to get started.  It may only be February, but the sap buckets are out, the sun is getting stronger, the days are getting longer.  I'm ready for spring and I'm not alone!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Remembering Grandma

As a child during the 1950's, Sunday dinners at my maternal grandmothers apartment were both frequent and regular.  Her second floor apartment came with a covered porch that ran the length of the building.  Grandma had flower boxes spread all across the front edge of the porch railing.  I remember brightly colored leaves that included the colors red, yellow and green.  Those plants were likely coleus.  She also had a row of drinking glasses filled with water and pieces of plants.  Masses of roots crowded together in the glasses.  Grandma called these plants slips and indicated that sometimes she was able to grow new plants from what was growing in the glasses.

Recently, Becky accidentally broke off a piece of Rosemary.  Wanting to see some new green, she placed the stem in a cup of water on the kitchen windowsill.  Some time passed before roots appeared.  Today we decided that it was time to move the growing plant piece into dirt.  We have sixty gallons of carefully prepared potting soil in cans in the basement.  The bright red pot was chosen in honor of Valentine's Day!  Everything we needed was at hand.  Expecting nothing we will keep this piece of plant watered.  It is placed in the warmest spot in the house.  With luck, we will have a young plant to place alongside of the veterans on the patio this summer.  In any event, I have come away from this activity today with fond memories of my grandmother and her impact on my interest in gardening.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Blue Snow And Skin Ice

This morning found the center of the driveway still covered with ice.  Where vehicle wheels pass some gravel was exposed.  The truck was used to take the outgoing mail down and several trips were made up and down the lane to break up the still frozen surface.  Becky was able to drive out and make her meeting at the library.

These afternoon pictures show what bright sunlight can do despite air temperatures that remained just below freezing.  The low spot between the truck and the camera caught and held runoff water from melting ice.  Shadows are now long as the sun approaches the horizon and the trapped water has already formed a thin ice coating.  The near snow pile is in partial shadow.  Its blue color is reflected clear sky.

The ice chopper accompanied me on the walk down to get the mail.  The remains of the snow packed under the blower in the center of the road had turned to ice.  That smooth surface was broken into small pieces thinking that more exposed surfaces would melt faster.  This morning the center strip was solid ice.   This morning, driving here caused the truck to lose traction and begin to slide backwards down hill.  Steering toward the gravel edge allowed me to stop the reverse slide.  A quick shift into four wheel drive carried the truck up the hill.  Now most of the ice is gone!

Full sun completely cleared this section of ice.  Now in shadow the soft wet gravel surface is beginning to refreeze.  If this gravel freezes solid before the next snowfall, it will remain in place under the plow blade.  If it is soft for the next plow, gravel ridges will line the edge of the driveway.

It might appear that there is no rational explanation for this large plowed area beyond the end of the driveway.  Actually there are two reasonable justifications for this huge clear area.  A solitary deer was feeding here while I was preparing my breakfast this morning.  The deer raise havoc in the gardens and I might prefer them to be gone but they were here before me.  Robins will return soon usually ahead of the snow melt.  They gather on this open ground in huge numbers making a clear statement that winter is nearly gone.  Becky loves to have a place to walk around outside too!  A more practical explanation is my small tractor can only move snow onto cleared ground.  Extra space might be needed if the snow pack is continuous and deep.

During the late morning on February 15, 2018, the ice in the center of the driveway finally melted.  This day saw afternoon temperatures in the mid 40F range while the sky was overcast.  Melt water is running from the snow everywhere.  The driveway surface is soft as is much of the exposed ground.

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Both yesterday and today saw above freezing temperatures and rain with an overnight low of 30F.  Unfortunately the ground was frozen deeply hard before the earlier storm.  It started with rain that quickly froze just after it contacted the ground.  The resulting ice was smooth, solid and therefore dangerous to cross.  This area near the truck was kept as clear as possible after the recent storm.  The ice is lumpy and wet.  I will not risk another fall by trying to get to the truck.

There are three different surface conditions across this section of the lane.  The grass is partially bare and is safe to carefully walk on.  The nearby section of driveway is coated with porous ice that would likely crack and separate if driven on with the truck.  The center section that was covered with a layer of packed snow is smooth and wet.  A vehicle with chains would slip here.
Turning downhill after snapping the above photo, shows that the running melt water seems to have filled in the cracks in the track near the edge.  I wonder if I could steer a vehicle if I attempted to drive here. 

The curve preceding the drop to the town road looks passable but the steep slope is covered with water running over the surface of the ice.  We will not try to venture out today.  Some new snow may fall overnight.  Wednesday is forecast to be sunny and above freezing.  So we will wait until conditions improve.  When I was younger and less rational in my thinking, my truck of the moment slid backwards down this hill.  It came to rest with the corner of its tailgate firmly resting against a tree at the base of the slope.  Slowly I learn.  That learning remains unfinished as is shown by my willingness to walk about taking these pictures.  A gait featuring legs bent at the knees while leaning forward seems to be solid when slowly making ones way across the wet ice.  I can only imagine how old and broken one must appear while moving in that position.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Need Bigger Tools

When we came to these thirty-six acres more than two decades ago, a simple life lived close to nature was the desired goal.  A walk behind a Lawn Boy mower propelled by the one pushing it was the only power tool in use. Three hours each dry afternoon were spent mowing some of the former fields.  Age and illness required a change in plans.  A small lawn tractor, similar to the one in the foreground of the picture, became the tool of choice.  It was never intended for the tasks here but it did survive for more than 800 hours of heavy use.  The X500 in the background replaced it.  We expected that the snow blower attachment would meet our needs.  The new smaller tractor was intended to provide Becky with transportation to our distant acres when I was back there for an extended period of time.  It also could be fitted with the plow from the first tractor.

Both tractors would function great in average suburban use.  Short flat asphalt driveways could be cleared with ease using either machine.  Our long sloped gravel driveway proved to be more than either the plow or the blower could handle working alone.  Since the tools were not up to the task, we needed a different approach.  The plow can handle about two inches of snow.  The snow is first pushed toward the center of the lane since it cannot discharge snow into the deeper pile already along side of the driveway.  Passersby might think it more than a little odd that the snow is pushed to the center of the road intentionally preventing its use .

The blower is then called in to blast the plowed snow clear of the driveway.  This method comes with certain problems.  The storm just before the current one began with rain falling on frozen ground.  That layer of clear ice remains.  The doubly sloped curve caused the tractor to slide sideways  downhill.  Had I tried to blow snow right next to the snow pack, the back wheels would have buried themselves in deep snow.  With the snow to be removed located in the center, there is room to back up and center the tractor without hand shoveling a great deal of snow.

Here the ridges of snow cover more level ground.  The tractor remains remains centered in line with the row of snow.  Since our road is gravel, we needed a way to keep the scraper blade above the stones.  High heeled skids were fashioned at a nearby welding shop and to date only one shear pin has snapped during several years of use.  The snow left behind each pass of the blower becomes compacted and resistant to removal with the plow.  If that snow is not removed, subsequent passes with the blower adds another layer.  When that builds up our machines become mired in the deep layer and the plow truck is called in to finish the job.  So far we have always been able to drive our machines to a clear location far out of the trucks path.

The current storm required three distinct sessions with our two machines.  This was the first run made early in the storm.  It is not obvious why such a large area is being cleared.  The propane tank in the background feeds our boiler and the delivery truck must have access to it.  Space is cleared to allow the delivery truck to turn around.  The shed is used to house the larger tractor but the door is located on the far side.  A forward run up the slope is followed by a reverse move into the shed.  That requires a fair sized area cleared of snow.  My truck is also parked here in the spot presently being plowed.  With the blade set straight, this little tractor will push and pile a large amount of snow.  In all honesty, I do enjoy the time spent in sometimes bitter cold removing mountains of snow.  Coming out the winner in the battle against the elements is a satisfying experience.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

More Beautiful Snow

I could hardly wait to bundle up and get outside with the camera.  Let's see, there's the long underwear, another layer of long pants and a fleece top,  waterproof snow pants, my big coat, one furry hat and another wool hat with ear flaps, warm socks, boots, gloves and of course the camera. 
When I stepped outside the kitchen door I noticed the muffled quiet that a new snowfall brings. Everything looks so beautiful, fresh and white!  Right away it was the snow itself that got my attention.  I don't know what the Eskimos would call this light fluffy snow, but I love the way you can see the flakes on the surface of the mound of snow!

The hydrant that we use for water in the garden stands stiffly waiting in the snow.   My Tibetan prayer flags  show  the only tiny bit of color in the clean cold whiteness. 

I was captivated by the way the snow piled up on the railing right outside my kitchen door.  In some places the snow stands straight and tall, but here it has curled over like a cold ocean wave, frozen in time.  The snow clings to itself,  defying gravity until the warmth of the sun  or a strong wind causes it to fall.   Two things made me return to the warmth of the house.  One was the fact that  I could only walk in the places where Ed had already cleared the snow.  Many delightful photo ops were simply out of my reach.  The other is that the wool fingerless gloves that I need in order to operate the camera properly were no longer keeping my hands from hurting.

I'm not unlike these gorgeous nutmeg scented geranium flowers growing against the window.  I'm happy to be inside where it is warm, but I am still drawn to the bright  white light and the promise of  Spring in spite of the cold!  I really had to disturb this plant to get my picture.  Its spicy fragrance lingers on my still slightly cold hands. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

A Beautiful View Of Blowing Snow

Early this morning there wasn't much of a view out any of my windows.  Everything had a deep blue cast and all you could see was falling snow.  When the snow stopped and the sun came out the view got much more beautiful and interesting.  Somehow the wind  found a path uphill through the Norway spruce.  So much snow was blowing off the branches of the trees that it looked like it was still snowing!   All of the marks in the snow were made by the deer who often sleep within sight of the house.

Countless times I have watched the wind kick up little swirling tornadoes of snow.  They whirl and dance across the snow moving across the garden or along the ridge.  We have always called them snow devils.  I have written about them many times, but I don't think I have ever caught one in a picture.  This time the devil's motion was stopped cold by the camera.  It looks a little like a weird ghost standing next to the snow covered Japanese Honeysuckle in the center of the picture.

I never tire of this view of the garden.  Today Ed's stone walls are capped in beautiful white snow.  The locust tree looks as pretty as a sycamore.  Blowing snow is rising from the ridge in the distance.  Everything looks so peaceful and quiet.  It is a lovely idea to hibernate here and wait for spring to come.

However things are not so quiet when we look out the kitchen door. The other kind of blowing snow has been in progress much of the day on this end of the house.  Ed and his fleet of John Deeres have to cope with the reality of dealing with snow.  Clearing our .25 mile downhill lane and clearing off the cars is a big job.  Sometime we will give up and call someone to do it for us.  Today was not that day.  I think Ed looks like he is having some fun!

At the end of the day the snow has been blown, plowed, shoveled and brushed.  We can hibernate here if we want to, but Ed has given us a choice.  All in all this was a beautiful day!   If we can believe the forecast we won't get this much snow again until Wednesday.